Monday, January 26, 2009

Stimulus and swine

As I’m following the debate around Obama’s economic stimulus package, the aphorism “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” keeps ringing in my head. In this case, is one man’s stimulus package is another man’s pork?

The front page of this morning’s Chronicle raises this question. Check out the handy chart at the bottom of the article that shows where the $825 billion in taxpayer money will go.

Much of the money could yield longer-term returns through greater energy efficiency and more better computer systems. But $200 million in renovations for the National Mall, $44 million for repairs at the Agriculture Department, and $426 million to construct facilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seem weird, and only beneficial to D.C. construction companies.

At first blush, I am echoing Republican concerns that most of this money will do little to stimulate the economy. Obama’s throwing money at federal agencies that starved during the Bush administration. He also runs the risk of picking industry favorites, such as construction and health care, rather than providing relief to middle class Americans. But I’m not convinced that the Republican approach of giving a few hundred bucks in tax cuts for Americans to spend on useless stuff will help us invest for a better future.

I want to see an America that can apply its innovative spirit to fix the inefficiencies of our nation’s critical systems such as energy, food, health care, and transportation. And as a product of Silicon Valley, I’m idealistic that technology can play a big role in building a society that runs on more brains and less fuel than other countries. In order to make this work, government and the private sector must collaborate. Progress cannot be a solo venture.

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